Conscience Subjugation

         In the modern world it seems that many people in society constantly subject themselves to the pitfalls of repetition. It is said that insanity is the act of doing something over and over again, yet expecting the result to change, and this theory rings true when and in-depth analysis of A Streetcar Named Desire is taken, from both Tennessee Williams' 1947 literary and Elia Kazan's 1951 cinematic versions. Many of the characters in the play/film become frustrated, as with Stanley, fed up, like Stella, or literally insane as Blanche did, because of their refusal to change the patterns and habits of their life.

         What makes Streetcar poignant and relevant to today's society is not just the sexual promiscuity that Blanche (Vivien Leigh on screen) exhibited, but the underlying violence that accompanied life in the Kowalski home. Nowadays society and the media are bombarded to the point of complete permeation by the effects of sexual promiscuity and domestic violence. Arrest rates have increased; single families are steadily becoming the norm; and, just as with Blanche, mental anguish and psychological breakdown is taking its toll on the minds of the world. The devastation of it all is that these effects, which ripple across the surface of society, are being caused, just like in Streetcar by the conscience decisions of fools week enough not to say no, and allow the insanity of repetition to dig its claws into their souls and drag them into the dark realm of the psychological abyss.

         Stella (Kim Hunter in the film) one day decided she desired a change from the monotony and possible maddening decadence of the world in which she was raised. Unlike Blanche, she wanted reality to surround her, even if it meant financial inferiority when compared to the home in which she grew up. She found a man, fell in love and began her life anew. There is passion between Stella and Stanley (Marlon Brando in the movie); the ring of desire, just like the streetcar, is frequent and repetitive; yet the passion emitted is not always sexual; at times it erupts in a fit of violence and frustration, mostly by the hands of Stanley, and especially when he has been drinking; and what a ravenous fuel alcohol can be. Once drunk, Stanley, in the midst of a fit of irritation, roots back to the brute that resides and festers under the shallow surface of his skin. He becomes violent, thrashing around the home destroying his own property, and frightening his wife into her own eruption of frustration, culminating with tears and seemingly triumphant march up the stairs to the neighbors/friends above.

         Yet, as with many a women today (I say women because the stories frequently told and heard today stereotypically involve them), her anger fades, and the longing for her supposed love infects her mind, causing rational thought and action to be substituted with a conscience decision to subject herself to the brutal actions of her husband. Why, because of her fear of being alone, or of losing the independence from her formal life she had created, it is not clear, just like in the real world. What is clear is her insanity, her unwillingness to admit, despite what Stanley says while pleading her to return home, that the violence will continue; she finds herself in the same position and expects a different result.

         The end of the film does show hope, if one has an optimistic out look. Stella runs once again upstairs, this time swearing never to return. The play, however, ends on a different note, with Stanley, attempting to quell Stella once again through sexual advances, as he fingers the opening of her blouse, hoping for the same result he has received many times before; willing acceptance of misplaced honesty amongst good intentions. We never have a chance to see if Stella will remove herself from this consciously decided vicious cycle, just as many police officers never know the future of those involved in the domestic disputes they are so frequently called to investigate.

         The same, though not yet (as for as we see in the film/play) as devastating, holds true for Stanley. Though we are unable to see within his mind and heart, outside of his drunken cries for his wife, it can be partially assumed that somewhere within lays a man sick of the cycle from passion to sincerity to drunkenness to apology and finally to the illusion of happiness. None the less he continues to drink, to play cards, get loud and rambunctious, drunk and then violent once again. He, just as with his wife, is enslaved by monotony, feeling change will occur, with no effort, only good intentions. Instead of slowing down this cycle though, he becomes more violent as the play continues, eventually assaulting Blanche and raping her.

         The character who is affected most severely by this self-controlled mental game of insane expectancy is Stella's sister, Blanche. Upon her introduction she has arrived mentally and emotionally distraught and sexually frustrated from her tragic life as a lover. She has lost one love, and then begun her own cycle of debauchery, sleeping with strangers, attempting to fill the void within her heart and mental instability. Her image has suffered, and she, in her own mind, has been forced to leave her hometown, after losing her home and destroying her reputation to the point that even absolute strangers had heard of the sordid past of Ms. Dubois.

         Blanche has run, yet has been unable to truly evade the person within that she had become. She does exhibit restraint, amongst people like Harold Mitchell (Mitch) (Karl Malden in the movie); yet, when faced with strangers, such as the youthful collector, her veil of respectability begins to fall; and her promiscuity shines through. She has thought she could hide, but her own conscience decisions continue to haunt her. Some might say that Blanche's aura propels her, carrying her forward to the destiny that waits within the bed with Stanley, despite her distaste for the forthcoming ramifications from Stanley's forceful nature. The cycle for Blanche concludes with a final and appropriate comment as the doctor leads her away, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." The only difference is this time there might be a chance for some sort of redemption. Unlike the strangers from her past, the doctor's "kindness" is not selfish in nature; he requires nothing for himself and can provide everything for her, an escape form the partially self-imposed insanity from past debauchery.

Taylor Sutton

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